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Defining your IT Roadmap

There are two types of people in the world. Those who plan vacations (picture multipage itineraries, budgets, excel spreadsheets) and those who don’t. You know, those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants types that may or may not have booked a hotel ahead of arrival and love to get lost in a city with only a basic map scrawled on a post-it note? Doesn’t it sound romantic? Yes. Until you arrive at 9 PM on a Friday night in the pouring rain, exhausted and cranky, only to find that they don’t have any rooms left. Oops. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yeah. Spontaneity can be overrated.

When it comes to business, your IT environment is DEFINITELY better with a plan.

So, if you don’t have one already, you need an IT roadmap. IT roadmaps differ greatly in their look, design, and feel, as they should be specifically tailored to each IT department and the way the team works best. There are a lot of puzzle pieces to fit together. Below is a basic introduction to the IT roadmap. Once you’ve got this down, you may want to dive deep into the nitty gritty details and questions to answer.

What is an IT roadmap and why do you need one?

The IT roadmap is a plan. A strategy. Plain. And. Simple. In timeline form, it lays out the current state of the company’s IT environment, its future, and precisely how to get from the current to the future.

The idea of technology roadmapping originates in the 1970s with Motorola. In the words of Robert Galvin, Motorola CEO, “the fundamental purpose of Technology Roadmaps is to assure that we put in motion today what is necessary in order to have the right technology, processes, components, and experience in place to meet the future needs for products and services.”

 Where do I start?

The first thing to understand about this process is that it takes time.  Research, data gathering, and policy reviews are all key preparatory steps. If you want your strategic document to be functional and accurate (which you do), you must do your homework. Get all the information you need. Go slow. Take the time to do this right. Two essential preparatory steps include:

  • Know the business side
    Dialogue between business leaders and IT management is key. In order to compose and organize your roadmap you need to know what direction the business is headed. Is it growing? Shrinking? What are your company’s core capabilities? Examples: customer service, manufacturing, product design. You cannot define your IT department’s strategy unless you have a thorough understanding the company’s overall business plan.
  • Current state analysis
    You’ll need a detailed assessment of where your IT environment is now. Your analysis should include: performance and age of assets, system and application dependencies, current costs and returns on those expenses, operational policies and procedures, scalability. Once you have a complete picture of the business and IT landscape as it currently exists, you can jump in to the future planning phase of the roadmap.
  • Identify your goals
    Your roadmap should ask (and answer) these two fundamental questions: what are we doing? Why are we doing it? You are ultimately crafting a mission. What are the financial and operational impacts we hope to achieve? Streamline workflows? Reduce waste and costs? Get our team back to strategic focus, not keeping the lights on?
  • Prioritize
    You cannot do everything at once, so determine what is most important. Your discussions with your company’s business leaders should come in handy here to determine the order in which goals should be addressed. What are your largest headaches? Are there gaps in your current technology? Are there ways to make the company’s work easier? What is the low-hanging fruit that could be easy and quick to fix? Refine your goals into two groups: short-term (high priority) and long-term (lower priority).
  • Layout the timeline
    Visually, this timeline can take any form that makes sense to you: an actual timeline, an infographic, a table. Two key parts need to be on opposite ends. On the left: the current state of affairs. On the right: the future. Roadmaps can cover any interval of time but most are 18 months.
  • Future view
    Here is where your long-term goals live. It is time to craft your vision for the IT team’s future. This “end view” should show what it looks when goals have been achieved.

In a nutshell

The IT roadmap is, at its essence, a simple document that describes the what and why of your IT department. What do you do? Why? How does each initiative contribute to achieving your goals? When done right, an IT roadmap can streamline your team’s big picture thinking. Once you have drafted your plan, it becomes a simple matter of execution.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to these plans. Each company, each IT department’s document is unique and specifically tailored to the way they work best. Like other strategic documents, this one should be living and breathing. Nothing should be carved in stone. This document is your compass and map. You should keep it handy and check in frequently to monitor your progress.  If a change in course becomes evident and/or necessary, you have the flexibility. Plans are never the be all end all, but they can hopefully prevent the IT equivalent of late night strandings in the pouring rain!

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